Ernest Cole Photographer
April 7–July 7, 2013
Ernest Cole (1940–90), one of South Africa’s first black photojournalists, passionately pursued his mission to tell the world what it was like to be black under apartheid. With imaginative daring, courage and compassion, he portrayed the lives of black people as they negotiated through apartheid’s racist laws and oppression. Lines of migrant mineworkers waiting to be discharged from labor, a schoolchild studying by candlelight, parks and benches for “Europeans Only,” young men arrested and handcuffed for entering cities without their passes, worshippers in their Sunday best, crowds crammed into claustrophobic commuter trains; these are just some of the scenes that Cole captured between 1958–66.
Cole, who became interested in photography as a teen, landed a position in Johannesburg as a darkroom assistant at DRUM magazine in 1958. There he began to mingle with other talented young black South Africans—journalists, other photographers, jazz musicians, and political leaders in the burgeoning anti-apartheid movement—and became radicalized in his political views. In the mid-1960s Cole set out at great personal risk to produce a book that would communicate to the rest of the world the corrosive effects of South Africa’s apartheid system. In 1966 Cole was forced to leave South Africa. His book, House of Bondage, was published in 1967, and immediately banned there.
Ernest Cole Photographer brings together 113 original, extremely rare black-and-white silver gelatin prints from Cole’s stunning archive, now housed at the Hasselblad Foundation, which toured the exhibition across South Africa in 2010-11. Ernest Cole Photographer will be seen in the United States for the first time at the Fowler Museum. Together with Cole’s own incisive and illuminating captions, these beautiful photographs bear stark witness to a wide spectrum of experiences during the apartheid era.
Above: © The Ernest Cole Family Trust
Courtesy of the Hasselblad Foundation